St. Patrick’s Day Lecture feature – Praedial Larceny

Contributed by Cleo Cassell

Grace Cassell, delivering the lecture

I would like to make a confession before I continue. I confess, not to committing praedial larceny, but to never attending any of the St. Patrick’s Day lectures before March 10, 2020. I believed that by fate I should go this year because every time I turned the radio on the advertisement seemed to beckon me through the speakers. The topic also appealed to my creative mind. Praedial Larceny: A Scourge on Agricultural Production and Food Security, and in my mind, I personified Praedial Larceny and imagined this character whipping agriculture and food security.

        In contrast, the setting of the conference room at the Cultural Centre was intimate and calming. The lofty windows had been dressed with draped fabric of our green, orange and white madras, while our sturdy national flower, the Heliconia, muted the stark white walls. Even more pleasing to see were the green chairs that were almost filled to capacity.

The St. Patrick’s Day lecture truly added a sophisticated element to the debauchery that the day was becoming. It was an unmistakable reminder that the St. Patrick’s celebration was much more: it was a celebration of our ancestors who fought for our freedom. Later on, it became apparent that the lecture was also important because it was a way to safeguard Montserrat’s undocumented history in this new emerging Montserrat where so many memories of the pre-volcanic times had been buried and displaced.

The lecture was amply chaired by Mr. Claude Brown the infamous host of Farmers’ Corner, President of the Farmer’s Association and Former Agriculture Development Officer. Besides his credentials, Brown’s soothing voice, pleasant way of lightening the seriousness of the mood with a joke or two and seamless way of segueing into the next segment seemed to keep the audiences’ attention.

Claude Browne

However, Brown was not the only trick up the sleeve, there was entertainment. First came Lord Meade’s calypso, which passionately told the story of a farmer who was frustrated by his neighbours’ “damn” livestock that were harvesting his produce before he had a chance to. Our very own historian and poet, Professor Sir Howard Fergus followed with two recent poems and an old one about praedial larceny.  I do not know about the audience, but I thoroughly enjoyed his readings. It reminded me of sitting in tutorials listening to the man who made me fall in love with poetry, Professor Mervin Morris.

Sir Professor Howard Fergus

The main feature did not disappoint either. Miss Gracelyn Cassell began the lecture with anecdotes. She told the story of entitled workmen who openly stole coconuts from the Open Campus to the heart-wrenching story of her uncle, Cephas Cassel who died by the scourge of praedial larceny. The saga of Cephas’ was an allusion to the Cain and Abel story told in Genesis. Cain was a farmer and Abel a shepherd; however, it was Cain’s jealousy that led his naive brother to his death just as the murderer had done to the innocent Cephas.

My mind was completely engaged by then and kept ticking as Cassell transitioned into the historical perspectives of praedial larceny. It was once accepted as a means to an end for the emancipated slave, but was also negatively described by Bryan as a ‘typical black perversion’. Bryan’s notion appeared to be a paradox as Cassell continued by illustrating contemporary experiences, praedial larceny’s impact on food security, the approaches and measures taken to solve this problem. Although not mentioned, I shuddered as I was able to make the connection with the disturbing piracy that regularly occurred off the coast of Africa. Praedial larceny was once petty theft and was tolerated as a means of subsistence, but it had morphed into the pure evil of Cain. It was the business of highly organized theft.

Praedial larceny was much more than just stealing it was a scourge on people’s psyche. At the end of the lecture, the audience was encouraged to share a memory or experience about praedial larceny. Some of the accounts had been hoarded for over 40 years and involved even huge cows disappearing into thin air. The account that really pricked me the most was hearing about a grandmother who put pins into her provisions not to harm buyers, but to discourage people from purchasing from the thieving seller. This story reminded the audience that praedial larceny was also a public health and safety issue.

I left the lecture with a lot to think about, but not ill-equipped. Although I did not have a definite remedy for the problem, I could do my part to help put an end to praedial larceny. I would make sure I bought from reputable farmers.

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Contributed by Cleo Cassell

Grace Cassell, delivering the lecture

I would like to make a confession before I continue. I confess, not to committing praedial larceny, but to never attending any of the St. Patrick’s Day lectures before March 10, 2020. I believed that by fate I should go this year because every time I turned the radio on the advertisement seemed to beckon me through the speakers. The topic also appealed to my creative mind. Praedial Larceny: A Scourge on Agricultural Production and Food Security, and in my mind, I personified Praedial Larceny and imagined this character whipping agriculture and food security.

        In contrast, the setting of the conference room at the Cultural Centre was intimate and calming. The lofty windows had been dressed with draped fabric of our green, orange and white madras, while our sturdy national flower, the Heliconia, muted the stark white walls. Even more pleasing to see were the green chairs that were almost filled to capacity.

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The St. Patrick’s Day lecture truly added a sophisticated element to the debauchery that the day was becoming. It was an unmistakable reminder that the St. Patrick’s celebration was much more: it was a celebration of our ancestors who fought for our freedom. Later on, it became apparent that the lecture was also important because it was a way to safeguard Montserrat’s undocumented history in this new emerging Montserrat where so many memories of the pre-volcanic times had been buried and displaced.

The lecture was amply chaired by Mr. Claude Brown the infamous host of Farmers’ Corner, President of the Farmer’s Association and Former Agriculture Development Officer. Besides his credentials, Brown’s soothing voice, pleasant way of lightening the seriousness of the mood with a joke or two and seamless way of segueing into the next segment seemed to keep the audiences’ attention.

Claude Browne

However, Brown was not the only trick up the sleeve, there was entertainment. First came Lord Meade’s calypso, which passionately told the story of a farmer who was frustrated by his neighbours’ “damn” livestock that were harvesting his produce before he had a chance to. Our very own historian and poet, Professor Sir Howard Fergus followed with two recent poems and an old one about praedial larceny.  I do not know about the audience, but I thoroughly enjoyed his readings. It reminded me of sitting in tutorials listening to the man who made me fall in love with poetry, Professor Mervin Morris.

Sir Professor Howard Fergus

The main feature did not disappoint either. Miss Gracelyn Cassell began the lecture with anecdotes. She told the story of entitled workmen who openly stole coconuts from the Open Campus to the heart-wrenching story of her uncle, Cephas Cassel who died by the scourge of praedial larceny. The saga of Cephas’ was an allusion to the Cain and Abel story told in Genesis. Cain was a farmer and Abel a shepherd; however, it was Cain’s jealousy that led his naive brother to his death just as the murderer had done to the innocent Cephas.

My mind was completely engaged by then and kept ticking as Cassell transitioned into the historical perspectives of praedial larceny. It was once accepted as a means to an end for the emancipated slave, but was also negatively described by Bryan as a ‘typical black perversion’. Bryan’s notion appeared to be a paradox as Cassell continued by illustrating contemporary experiences, praedial larceny’s impact on food security, the approaches and measures taken to solve this problem. Although not mentioned, I shuddered as I was able to make the connection with the disturbing piracy that regularly occurred off the coast of Africa. Praedial larceny was once petty theft and was tolerated as a means of subsistence, but it had morphed into the pure evil of Cain. It was the business of highly organized theft.

Praedial larceny was much more than just stealing it was a scourge on people’s psyche. At the end of the lecture, the audience was encouraged to share a memory or experience about praedial larceny. Some of the accounts had been hoarded for over 40 years and involved even huge cows disappearing into thin air. The account that really pricked me the most was hearing about a grandmother who put pins into her provisions not to harm buyers, but to discourage people from purchasing from the thieving seller. This story reminded the audience that praedial larceny was also a public health and safety issue.

I left the lecture with a lot to think about, but not ill-equipped. Although I did not have a definite remedy for the problem, I could do my part to help put an end to praedial larceny. I would make sure I bought from reputable farmers.